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fifteen minute pastas


Polenta is really the national dish of the northern parts of Italy, such as Veneto and Friuli, more so than pasta.

It is easy to prepare, needing only cornmeal, water and salt as basics. It has a wide variety of uses (see below), and it can become addictive, especially served in mouthwatering style with gorgonzola. Herewith the recipe for basic polenta, and for the time-saving instant polenta (also see below).

The basic recipe:

  • seven cups of water
  • one and three-quarters cups of yellow cornmeal, preferably the imported Italian medium polenta grind
  • two teaspoons salt
  • three tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • one-half cup freshly grated parmesan

In a large, heavy pot, bring the water to a boil. Add the salt. Keep the water at a boil. Pour the cornmeal into the water in a thin, steady stream, either through your fingers or using a spouted measuring cup. All the time you are adding the cornmeal, whisk!

Continue cooking over a medium-low heat, stirring frequently and thoroughly. Adjust the heat so that the polenta just barely bubbles. The key to a successful polenta is smoothness, and no lumps.

As the polenta thickens, be sure to stir with vigor, scraping up the mixture from the bottom and sides. Also as it thickens, you probably need to turn up the heat a little more to keep getting the bubble.

It is done, when the polenta becomes a mass that pulls away from the sides, and has a glossy look. This can be about 30 - 40 minutes.

To finish the polenta: take off the heat, stir in the butter and the parmesan and stir again. It is now ready for serving immediately, or whatever.



Polenta with sausage  (as shown below): for this wonderful combination, with variations, see: Polenta with sausage.

Roy's polenta with mushrooms: one our favorites. see Roy''s polenta with mushrooms

Serving (and other uses):

The basic presentation: take the hot, finished polenta and ladle it into warmed bowls, add some more cheese if desired, and salt and pepper if wanted, and serve.

Gorgonzola (you have to try this): At the finish, add six ounces of Gorgonzola, crumbled, and one-half cup of heavy cream. Stir. Adjust for salt and pepper. Ladle and serve. Works best when the polenta is a little creamy.

Sausage (or bacon): take one-quarter pound of sausage or bacon. Chop the sausage or bacon into small little squares. Put a little oil into a saute pan, and saute the sausage or bacon until it is well done. Set aside. At the finish of the polenta, off heat, stir in the sausage or bacon, and a half cup of parmesan. Adjust for salt and pepper and serve. Or, as above, just serve the browned sausages, whole, on the bed of polenta.

Bolognese: this is almost everyone's favorite. Put the finished polenta in the warmed bowl and top it with bolognese sauce. (see bolognese sauce). You will quickly see why.

Mushroom ragu: make the mushroom ragu (see mushroom ragu) and just put the ragu on top of the finished polenta. A great vegetarian dish.

Other presentations (cold): put the finished polenta onto a board, and shape it as it cools, to a thickness of about two inches. Let it set for an hour or so. It can then be refrigerated and kept for a couple of days.

The cold polenta can be sliced into convenient size pieces, and then grilled, or put under a broiler to lightly brown, and served as a perfect side dish to a hearty stew. Or just butter it and eat it. Even top with cinnamon.


This variation will save time and elbow bending. You will find that instant polenta has a creamier, smoother taste and feel to the tongue. Regular polenta has more texture.

Use the same ingredients as above, using the instant yellow cornmeal variety.

Bring the water to a boil. Add the salt. Add the cornmeal slowly, as above, whisking while you add. When thoroughly mixed and stirred, reduce the heat to low. Cover. Keep at a lightly bubbling simmer. Stir fairly often. The mixture should thicken in about fifteen minutes. (test as above). Uncover. Stir it for a minute, and then finish and ladle and serve.












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